Defense & National Security

McChrystal was ‘stunned’ at Rolling Stone article allegations

McChrystal was 'stunned' at Rolling Stone article allegations

In retired four-star Army General Stanley McChrystal’s newly released memoir My Share of the Task, the former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan sets forth an account of his part in the war, dense with fact and detail–and decidedly absent of the sneering at authority portrayed in the Rolling Stone article that got him fired.

References to President Barack Obama in the account of McChrystal’s years at the helm in Afghanistan are straightforward, with the retired general focusing not on politics, but his own efforts to implement the president’s strategy in the best way possible.

He defends once as misconstrued a comment in the fall of 2009 that helped earn him the reputation of a maverick in the armed forces:

I was awakened in the early-morning hours of October 2 by Admiral (Mike) Mullen relaying concerns over remarks I’d made the previous day at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. A reporter had asked whether I felt a more limited counterterrorism–(CT-only)–strategy was viable for Afghanistan. I’d answered that, in my estimation, a more holistic effort than a counterterrorism capture-and-kill campaign was required to leave Afghanistan stable. Although Vice President Biden was not mentioned in the question, and I was not thinking of him in my answer, my response was reported as a rebuttal of other policy options for Afghanistan and as criticism of the vice president’s views. It wasn’t intended as such, but I could have said it better.

The same remarks were reported in the New York Times under the heading “McChrystal rejects scaling down Afghan military aims.”

The New York Times gets little love from McChrystal in his book, which elsewhere contains an account of how strategy assessments by U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry were leaked to the paper in a move “disruptive” to strategy and damaging to relations with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Mentions of the remarks that form the pivots of Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article–such as a mocking reference to Vice President Joe Biden and hearsay instances of McChrystal questioning Obama’s authority–are absent from the article, as is a mention of Hastings himself.

The impact of the June 2010 magazine story is relegated to an epilogue in the book:

“Sir, we have a problem,” Charlie (Flynn) said in the darkness of my room. “The Rolling Stone article is out, and it’s really bad.”

How in the world could that story have been a problem? I thought, stunned. But I replied simply, “Thanks, Charlie, I’ll be right down.”

…This story, one of a number we’d done over the year in Afghanistan, was designed to provide transparency into how my command team operated. But, beginning with the provocative title “The Runaway General,” the article described a hard-driving general, a struggling U.S. policy, and attributed a number of unacceptable comments to my command team.

McChrystal said he took action right away, though he believed the story unfair and the situation “surreal.”

“Regardless of how I judged the story for fairness or accuracy, responsibility was mine,” he wrote.

He would retire from service soon after, a move felt by many to be a great loss to both the war and U.S. military leadership. But, he said, life would go on.

In April 2011, the Department of Defense inspector general’s office would release a summary of its review into the allegations outlined in the Rolling Stone article. The investigations could not substantiate any violations of Defense Department standards and found that “not all of the events occurred as portrayed in the article.” These conclusions came out quietly, almost a year after the tornado of controversy the article created, but they were important to me. Maybe more important, also that month, I would accept First Lady Michelle Obama’s request to serve my country again, this time on the board of advisers for Joining Forces, a White House initiative for service members and their families.

The book is available from Penguin and will be in public release Jan. 7.

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